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Be it doping in sport, hot topics like Caster Semenya or Oscar Pistorius, or the dehydration myth, we try to translate the science behind sports and sports performance.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mitchell Report due today

Former Senator's report promises to be a 'huge story'

Eighteen months ago, former US Senator George Mitchell launched a probe into steroid use in baseball. The probe is the result of an unprecedented shake-up in Major League Baseball that started as far back as 1998, when reporters noticed a tub of androstenedione in aspiring home run champ Mark McGwire's locker. McGwire went on to hit 70 homers that season, smashing the former record of 61. According to San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams in their book Game of Shadows, this helped spur Barry Bonds to begin using steroids in pursuit of McGwire's new record (and fame).

For the next few years things were relatively quiet in baseball, until all hell broke loose in September 2003 when Victor Conte's BALCO offices were raided. We all know the resulting shockwaves that went through sports, and we still feel it---in October Marion Jones finally confessed to using drugs, and just this week she was finally stripped of her Sydney 2000 medals.

In March 2005 congress invited a number of players, former players, and baseball executives to a hearing to discuss drug use in their sport. Most parties decline, however, leading congress to issue subpoenas, which were fought hard by MLB. Former players like McGwire and Jose Canseco were dragged in front of congress for eleven hours, although most refused to provide any meaningful information. Said McGwire, "My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family or myself. I intend to follow their advice." That was unfortunate as McGwire (and others) had a golden opportunity to come clean. He had already retired, and all that was on the line was his records, which were illegitimate anyway.

Fast forward another year to March 2006, when the former Senator Mitchell agrees to lead an investigation into alleged steroid use by players working with Conte's BALCO. However baseball commissioner Bud Selig makes it known that Mitchell has the authority to expand the investigation as he sees fit.

But don't we know they are all juicing anyway?

And now, 1.5 years later, the Mitchell's findings and report will be released. . .but will it just tell us what we already know? We have a feeling that most of The Science of Sport's readers will agree that MLB has an endemic drug problem. Since 2003 and the BALCO bust numerous names have been named, and even since MLB's (weak) testing policy was instituted in 2003 a few players have had multiple violations. But Mitchell's report should go deeper than and perhaps outline for us the depth of the use. To date no big names have tested positive, and sources today promise that Mitchell's work will expose just how high up the drug use goes. Stay tuned for our analysis of the findings as we will be glued to the media outlets and waiting for the release.

Preview of other forthcoming attractions

Apart from the Mitchell Report, there are a few other big "events" on the horizon. First, speaking of release dates, Part III of our series on Running Economy will be "released" tomorrow here at The Science of Sport. We plan to cover training effects on running economy with some practical applications. We are sure all the media outlets will pick it up. . .!

And then also due out tomorrow is the IAAF's report on Oscar Pistorius, which we will analyze in great depth. But there is a preview of the tests that were done and our initial impressions of them above. Those who've been with us since June will have read the controversy regarding Oscar Pistorius, which culminated in a series of tests to determine whether his carbon fibre blades do give him an advantage. Given the tests that they performed, which basically amounted to science's equivalent of a fishing expedition, it might make for interesting dicussion! We'll be sure to bring you as much insight as possible!

In the mean time, check out this complete time line of drug use in baseball since 1998 to refresh your memory and fill in some blanks.